gEven though it’s an airline-addicted industry, whose artists put on energy-guzzling shows and release albums on vinyl, the music industry is rightly scrutinized for its green credentials. But as Brian Eno argues, a growing number of musicians and workers are also trying to improve sustainability and audience understanding. “A lot of people are realizing that we can’t just talk about the problem – we have to do something in our own practice,” he says.
On Earth Day this year – April 22 – the producer, artist and activist plans to light up the internet with unreleased music to bring attention and funds to the climate crisis. Approximately 100 artists will release material exclusively via band camp – with the platform dropping its usual 15% cut to 10% – and the proceeds being split among causes at the forefront of the emergency.
“I just finished a track this morning with Michael Stipe,” says Eno, revealing an exclusive collaboration with the former REM vocalist called Future If Future. “It will be my first time working with him, even though I once sang with him on Saturday Night Live or something,” the 73-year-old smiles in his recording studio at the West London. “I’m very happy with how it went. It’s a very good song, a very Stipe song. Beautiful lyrics, amazing piece.
The roster of other attendees is international, cross-generational and eclectic: from alt-pops Anna Calvi and the Weather Station, to Gen Z icon Declan McKenna and composer Murkage Dave. Coldplay – with whom Eno has produced two albums – will also share music as part of this one, and Eno has produced new material with Hot Chip, featuring Savages drummer Fay Milton.
Another contributor is London saxophonist and composer Laura Misch. “Music is not created in a vacuum and we need to protect the environment it comes from,” she says. “A track is like a drop in the ocean, but I realized that every drop counts.”
Eno, world-renowned as a founding member of Roxy Music, pioneer of ambient music and collaborator with David Bowie and U2, has been advocating for greater action on the climate crisis for years, including supporting the work of the cabinet of lawyers CustomerEarth alongside musicians such as David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.
Convinced that the music community could do more and frustrated that less than 3% of philanthropic funding is directed to the climate crisis, Eno co-founded a charity called EarthPercent in 2021. Engaging all corners of the industry – from live tours to publishers – asking them to pledge a small percentage of their revenue, its aim is to raise $100m (£76m) by 2030. EarthPercent diverts this money to “the most impactful climate causes”, a group of projects and charities selected by an independent “expert advisory panel”, made up of more than a dozen contributors, including the author IPCC Tamsin Edwards, Professor Brian Cox and activist Tori Tsui.
“We tried to say to people, ‘Listen, if you want to find an easy way to join the fight against climate change, this might be the solution,'” says Eno. “We are a shortcut to a lot of things that might otherwise be quite difficult to do.” For example, getting help for organizations dedicated to nature conservation, the clean energy transition, and climate justice.
Today his studio is quiet, but there has recently been a buzz with presentations, discussions and brainstorming as Eno has gathered creatives at his headquarters. “It’s so nice to see the enthusiasm and the intelligence in the music world,” he says, “especially with new artists. You don’t have to convince them. What you have to do is tell them, ‘How would you deal with that?’ They have lots of ideas. »
Part of EarthPercent’s mission is to address the environmental impact of the music industry. In particular, touring carbon production has come under the spotlight and in recent years some high-profile artists have taken steps to address the issue.
Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres World Tour is structured around a series of “sustainability initiatives– measures such as a kinetic dance floor that harnesses the energy of the crowd and an app providing travel advice to spectators – who seek to reduce carbon emissions by 50% compared to their last global shows. They will share their findings, creating a blueprint for a more sustainable model around stadium events.
“Their [contribution] is really important,” says Eno. “They took the issue very seriously and put a lot of resources into it. They’re front and center saying, ‘We always want to play for people, so what do we do? Coldplay has been very conscientious and smart.
Other grassroots organizations – such as Music declares urgency, A greener festival and Reverberation – increased their membership numbers, with major and independent record labels joining forces to commit to climate goals by the end of 2021. Massive Attack and 1975 had both scheduled “very low emission” concerts carbon emissions”, although canceled by Covid, and metal band Bring Me the Horizon reduced emissions by 38% during their UK tour in September 2021 thanks to approaches such as the carbon-based meal service crew plants, production trucks powered by HVO renewable diesel and the introduction of more energy efficient equipment.
Music – like other industries – relies on a sustainable transition in other sectors (energy, travel, shipping). Until then, international touring continues to have an impact on the environment – a criticism sometimes addressed to artists.
“We all have an imprint, we are all compromised”, Eno said last year. “The problem with the question of hypocrisy is that it shines the spotlight on you and says, ‘You are the problem – you have to solve the problem yourself.’ As individuals, we are not really the problem, we are in a problem system.
If successful, Eno envisions its Earth Day project to be an annual campaign and hopes EarthPercent’s work can expand into other creative sectors. “The biggest movement in human history now exists to fight climate change,” he says. “We’re doing something as a community, and humans like that feeling. This is what capitalism has not really understood. It turns out that what really sustains us is doing things together.